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Much to the chagrin of tired moms everywhere, there comes a point in a tot’s life when he no longer needs a consistent daily nap. Although most moms would prefer that this dreaded nap stoppage doesn’t happen until the child turns perhaps, oh, 18 years old or so, it more likely will occur by the time he graduates from preschool. While each child is different, there are a number of ways to determine if your child is ready to cut out the nap.
Importance of Napping
As any parent of an overtired little one can tell you, naps are essential for growing minds and bodies. A daily nap will not only prevent your child from becoming a cranky, whiny mess by the time dinner rolls around, but will also help your child sleep better at night. According to Sangeeta Chakravorty, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, “Our circadian rhythm in the body, which regulates sleepiness, has a natural dip after lunch in the afternoons. That is why many cultures have ‘siesta.’ It is more beneficial to allow natural sleep at that particular time to day to maintain the natural rhythm, which dips again at night. Interfering with this has consequences on the child’s health and behavior.”
Your son stopped napping when he was 18 months old, but your next-door neighbor’s 4-year-old daughter still sleeps, without argument, for nearly two hours every afternoon. Chakravorty says that these variances are not unusual. “Sleep needs are unique and individual, like a fingerprint. They vary based on genetic factors which are not well defined,” she explains. Overall, most toddlers need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, including an afternoon nap of about one to three hours (hello, Mommy time!) When your child reaches preschool age, he’ll still need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, but his naps may shorten to an hour or less and, by the time he’s ready for kindergarten, will eventually disappear altogether. “Most children need naps until the age of 4 to 5,” says Dr. Chakravorty. “Some toddlers outgrow afternoon naps as young as 2, and some children as old as 6 still could use naps, which are faded out by school systems in kindergarten.”
Although your determined 2-year-old may insist that he doesn’t need to nap, how do you, as the parent, know when your child is ready to give up his afternoon siesta? Dr. Chakravorty states, “If you see that they are generally happy in the evening if they are allowed to miss their nap — and sleep soundly at night — then the child no longer needs consistent naps.” Conversely, if after lunch your child continues to rub his eyes, yawn, or “act out,” then he still needs a nap despite his protests. While you certainly can’t force a strong-willed 3-year-old to go to sleep, you can require a period of downtime. Send him to his room for an hour and allow him to read books or play with “quiet” toys. After a few minutes, you may be surprised to find that he’s fallen asleep on his own, without prompting.
Young children love to test boundaries, and fighting a consistent naptime provides no exception. After all, what kiddo wants to rest when there are toys and friends to be played with, cartoons to watch, books to read, and mommies to nag? “The child will naturally resist going to sleep,” says Dr. Chakravorty. “When given the opportunity, he will remain awake and alert even in an area conducive to sleep — such as a quiet bedroom, with dim light and no external stimulation.” Still, although your babe may feel otherwise, Dr. Chakravorty says that she advocates naps as long as you know your child needs them. “It’s not advisable to ‘stop’ naps,” she says. Instead, if you feel your child’s naptime is causing nighttime sleep issues, adjust his overall sleep patterns. Try waking him earlier, shortening his naps, or, once you do decide to begin eliminating those nap times entirely (sigh), move up his bedtime.